In any business venture, the investor expects to receive a return on their investment. This notion also holds true for the NFL and the Las Vegas Raiders in particular. At some point, the investments owner Mark Davis has made must start paying dividends.
Davis paid a hefty monetary price as well as enduring an enormous amount of backlash from loyal Bay Area fans for once again moving their franchise away. The Raiders built a state-of-the-art facility in Las Vegas and for the first time will welcome fans into the new Allegiant Stadium in 2021. Moving the team to Las Vegas raised the overall value of the team exponentially, but the on-field product has lagged behind.
Jon Gruden is one of the highest-paid head coaches in the NFL and is said to be working under a 10-year, $100 million dollar contract. Sure the Raiders have increased their win total every year since he has returned to the helm, but when you’re making that type of money, the expectations are significantly larger than just progressing back to .500. No one cares that you’re in the division with Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, you’re expected to win and go to the playoffs. Now is the time to reap the benefits of the investments made in the on-field product.
For what it’s worth, quarterback Derek Carr had one of the best seasons of his career in 2020. Although it seems like Gruden is trying to replace Carr every offseason, the quarterback responded in an outstanding way. Carr is one of three quarterbacks to throw for more than 4,000 yards and have a career-high QBR (101.4) in two consecutive years. The other two players, Mahomes and Russell Wilson, have already been fitted for gold jackets and have their transportation all set for Canton, Ohio when their careers conclude. Carr achieved this feat while playing on a team with a defense that finished nearly last in scoring in 2020 and never finishing better than 20th since he was drafted.
The development of Darren Waller, who has become arguably the second-best tight end in the NFL, cannot be overlooked. However, there have been many head-scratching moments in the Gruden era, which have caused many of us in the football world to ask: “What in the world are the Raiders doing?”
First, they fired general manager Reggie McKenzie, who drafted Pro Bowlers Amari Cooper, Khalil Mack (2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year), and Carr. Then they convince Mike Mayock to leave the TV booth to be the figurehead general manager, claiming that he would not be a “yes man” to Gruden and Davis and had the “chops” to disagree and hold firm on his convictions. However, rumor has it there has been significant tension in the Raiders’ power structure for Mayock doing exactly what he was hired to do.
Next, Carr is rewarded for having the best year of his career by watching his offensive line get downgraded with the team trading away Trent Brown and Rodney Hudson (one of the best centers in the NFL). In this year’s draft, Las Vegas selected Alex Leatherwood at No. 17 overall (presumably to be the right tackle when some draft pundits weren’t sure he was even a tackle at all), when he would have undoubtedly been available in the second round. You give Kenyan Drake $11 million over two years when you have an established lead back in Josh Jacobs who is still on a rookie deal. You previously signed Carl Nassib, giving him $17 million guaranteed over three years, and he has yet to live up to that contract—so much so that you recently signed Yannick Ngakoue to fill a pass rush void on the edge. You clearly overdrafted Clelin Ferrell at No. 4 overall in 2019—and while he’s been somewhat effective inside, he certainly hasn’t lived up to the lofty expectations of a No. 4 overall pick. Sure, there have been a couple picks that have turned out to be productive, but the failure to support your franchise quarterback by not building a good defense and trading away one of the NFL’s best centers may be the most egregious offense of all.
The division isn’t getting any easier and It seems as if the Raiders are at a proverbial crossroads. It is year four in Round 2 of the Gruden experiment and he has yet to have a winning season. If we were honest about it, the Gruden experiment hasn’t gone as well as anyone would have hoped and the expectations are high. Somehow, it feels as if the Raiders are rebuilding yet again. But the time is now for the Raiders to see a significant return on their investments.